One of the beautiful things about Salesforce is the ability to create or modify an object’s structure with defined relationships, permissions, application contexts, business rules and page layouts.
Think about it for a second: how many frameworks do you know of that enable you to modify the data schema and automatically set:
- Relationships between objects;
- Cardinality rules, (definitions of how objects relate to each other in terms of how many of one can be related to how many of another);
- Business rules, (what fields are mandatory, what fields are dependent, default values, what fields are read only or even visible for certain users, which fields must be unique);
- Referential Integrity rules (which records will be deleted when a parent is deleted);
- A User Interface, even one that can be different for each user profile;
- Application context (which objects belong together to form a sub application;
- Access to reports; and
- A Notification engine that can share changes with subscribers or record owners, or handle task assignments.
And all with a point and click interface – no programming required (unless you want to), and all with defaults to allow you get the job done quickly. Very quickly. Read more
“Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.”
(Baha’u’llah: Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, Page 25)
When we don’t really understand something, we see division, we see dichotomy. We see the things that differentiate and we hone in on them, creating opportunities by exploiting these differences and in so doing we limit our thinking, our judgement, our potential. We become experts and protect that expertise by making it difficult for others to gain the knowledge we have. Knowledge is power, having more knowledge than others gives us an advantage.
It usually takes one visionary person to challenge the basic assumptions that lead to these differences, and when that happens, entirely new vistas open to us, empowering those who were shut out by providing access to the knowledge or exposing the differences as being false divisions, false barriers to entry.
Computers are like this. In the very early days, only people trained in the arcane would be able to (or want to) access a computer. A computer operator had to be able to read ticker tape, write in binary, then assembler, then Fortran. Screens and keyboards made computers more accessible, and then graphical user interfaces hid much of the complexity.
Programmers have been able to work with increasingly high abstractions, but still we haven’t really been able to get away from the need to be able to program, or to purchase tools that hide this from us – tools that automatically do backups, convert file formats, transfer data, dial the phone, send communiqués or whatever.
This seems to be changing very quickly – increasingly it is becoming possible for people to choose to configure existing systems rather than being forced to find a programmatic solution.
What is interesting here is the trap this represents for some people on both sides of the fence – those that understand how to program and those that don’t. Clearly the people who focus on the end objective, rather than the means of getting there, will adapt as technology becomes increasingly available to non-programmers. These outcome-oriented people have a distinct advantage.
Those who only see the barriers will continue to use old methods. End users will remain in fear of the unknown, while programmers will continue to look for programmatic solutions, even when both are presented with tools that can get the job done without code.
Cloud Computing makes it easier to facilitate the kind of advances described here, advances that empower end users to achieve change without programmers. This is because Platforms and Software delivered as a Service typically mean there is only one version of the platform or software in use by everyone – it is literally impossible for anyone to get left behind. Vendors can work to cover a lower common denominator because it is worth their while. Salesforce.com is a great example of this.
The bottom line: Those that focus on the technology will be left behind in a world where we were slaves to technobabble. Those that focus on what they want to do will realise the rules have changed and will be astonished at just how far they can take their vision without breaking a sweat.
Salesforce has released an internal collaboration context that beautifully leverages the power of the cloud. When I first saw chatter I was excited by the ability of people to subscribe to objects – more on that later. What surprised me was how many people rave about how good it is. Mostly, from what I can see, people seem to use it for person to person communication, and for this it has some interesting possibilities.
For example, sales teams are able to share tips or presentations they have done in some vertical industry so that other sales reps facing a challenge in that industry can learn from their experience. “Selling to an ENTJ? no problem here is my approach.”
When Marc Benioff recently made his comment about the question that drove him to start Salesforce.com (Why aren’t more enterprise applications more like Amazon), and how now that question has evolved to Why aren’t more enterprise applications more like Facebook, I realised something important about all these new ways of collaborating – Ning, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, WordPress and many others – they all deal with allowing people to publish a range of information in various facets of their lives, and it allows people to subscribe to those facets. Take Facebook as an example. People choose to post information about their social lives in the form of photos taken at parties, upcoming events, social news etc. People choose to participate in various games where they grow virtual pets or plants and collaborate. People choose to support various causes. As publishers, each of us choose to display all sorts of things in the hope that someone will find it interesting or valuable. As subscribers, we each choose to set up an antenna to learn what a particular person is saying, or what is happening relating to a particular favourite topic, perhaps a musician, perhaps a company.
This notion of publishing and subscribing is core to the notion of Chatter, but to see it as merely a closed-circuit means to publish and subscribe to information from human beings is to miss the mark somewhat because Chatter also allows business objects to participate in the freeflow of information. Human beings can choose to subscribe to certain objects.
So let’s say you are a sales manager managing a team of 5 field sales executives. You want to know how they are progressing on a number of important opportunities, perhaps a dozen in all. You can subscribe to those opportunities directly to find out if anything changes on the opportunities – a feed is provided to you and these opportunities will place information into your feed to let you know something has changed about them – perhaps the close date has changed, or the probability of closure. Perhaps the amount of the opportunity has been modified. This puts you very close to the action so you know what is going on.
This is all available today, and it is not limited to opportunities – what about an important, complex case your team is working on for a VIP customer? You can subscribe to the case to receive information about its status. Even custom objects can participate in this world.
This is all well and good but there are some really compelling things that Chatter requires to make it truly successful in my opinion: metadata based subscription and non-event subscription.
“Metawhat??”, I hear you say? Metadata is data that describes the shape of your data – let me give a few practical examples. Currently, Chatter requires you to subscribe to specific objects, for example Opportunity number 123456. You look at all your data and you choose which records will interest you. But how much more powerful would it be if you could automatically subscribe to objects based on preconfigured parameters? Here are some illustrative examples:
- You want to automatically subscribe to every opportunity worth more than $50000 owned by someone who reports to you.
- You want to automatically subscribe to every opportunity for a customer who has never purchased anything from you.
- You want to automatically subscribe to any cases logged by any VIP customer with platinum support where the renewal contract is due within three months.
- You want to automatically subscribe to opportunities where the amount is more than one standard deviation above last month’s average closed won price, is managed by one of your team members, and the customer is a new logo.
Another important offering that I feel would take Chatter to a whole new level is the addition of objects being able to chatter non events. Imagine being able to ask an urgent case for an important customer to let you know if it hasn’t been touched for six hours… Or an strategic opportunity has not been updated for more than two days.
These changes would make Salesforce Chatter very much more effective than it already is. Without them it is just another corporate collaboration tool.
In my next post I plan to talk about the next evolution of these concepts, something my company, Altium, is busy working towards – the Facebook of Devices, the Internet of Things, if you will. This is where we take the publisher subscriber model to an entire new level – devices intelligently collaborating with other devices.
In thinking about writing for this blog, I was musing about the journey I have been on with using the cloud and was thinking about my early days with Salesforce.
When I first used Salesforce, there were two things that stood out for me as being incredibly powerful about the product, and enabled me to see it as a potential business platform. These were the ability to define custom objects, with clearly defined relationships between them, and a customisable user interface – a user interface that was highly structured, yet flexible enough to drag and drop fields and sections around the page. Bear in mind these were nearly five years ago, and a lot of progress has been made since then.
I figured that with these features, I would be able to use Salesforce as a complete business platform, but I ran into the first of many of the limits Salesforce has imposed on the platform use. I will be writing more about these limits in a detail post at a later point, but for now I want to talk about a limit that made me realise Salesforce really didn’t understand just how much potential they had to break the shackles of their CRM roots: you couldn’t have more than 25 custom tabs. I told them that 25 was nothing and they asked me how many could I possible want – 40? 50? I sent them a reply listing more than 90 specific tabs, which really got their attention.
Now I have more than 300 custom objects in our installation of Salesforce being used in all sorts of interesting areas. I intend to share some of these use cases over the coming weeks along with other stories using other cloud applications and platforms.
For now, I just want to plant a seed that the initial limits born out of the need to protect all clients in a multi-tenanted architecture place unnecessary restraints on people’s perceptions of what is possible. I intend to talk more about this concept as well.
The idea of runtime metacustomisation is such a powerful concept though. Born out of the idea that a single platform can be leveraged by not hundreds, not thousands, but by millions of users, it really excites me to think about how much leverage can be gained by abstracting more of the development into the background. Just like what happened when we went from DOS to Windows, and suddenly all of the work required to write drivers to support different monitors, printers and input devices became a thing of the past.
Plenty has excited me since, but it is hard to recapture that initial excitement when you know you are onto something special.